* Azraai gunning for his third FA Cup winner’s medal and ninth M-League title as coach
* Fandi looking for his first FA Cup winner’s medal as coach and create history
* 80,000 tickets sold out
Singapore’s participation in the M-League hangs in the balance when the four-year MOU with the FA of Malaysia (FAM) comes to an end at the end of the year. But that takes a back seat for now as the focus switches to Saturday’s FA Cup final between Kelantan and Lions XII – a first between teams from the two countries.
And the coaches of the two FA Cup finalists are also chasing history. One is chasing history and take the FA Cup across the causeway while one is chasing his ninth M-League title before a sellout crowd at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil.
Kelantan head coach Azraai Khor Abdullah and his Lions XII counterpart Fandi Ahmad will be chasing the numbers with Lions XII head coach Fandi Ahmad is not only chasing a historic FA Cup win in the final but also his first ever Cup winner’s medal as coach.
Azraai, however, is a veteran in the game of numbers – chasing his third FA Cup winner’s medal – having won twice with his homestate Kedah in 2007 and 2008 – but also his ninth title overall in the M-League.
This sets the tone for an epic final. Both teams had a feel of the pitch on Friday with the two-time FA Cup champions Kelantan the early favourites. The Red Warriors won the FA Cup twice – in 2012 against Sime Darby and in 2013 against Johor Darul Takzim, winning both finals by 1-0 margins.
The National Stadium has been closed since the end of last year for upgrading and repairs after the pitch came under heavy criticism.
Putting that aside, Azraai’s Red Warriors have gone great guns in the FA Cup and knocked out defending champions Pahang 3-2 on aggregate in the two-leg semi-finals. Pahang won the first-leg 1-0 in Kuantan but Kelantan turned on the heat in the return-leg in Kota Bahru for a 3-1 win.
Fandi’s Lions fared equally well in knocking out another East Coast powerhouse Terengganu on away goals after both teams were tied 4-4 on aggregate. Lions won 2-1 at home but lost 3-2 in Kuala Terengganu.
“We maybe the underdogs but we have done all that needs to be done in our preparations for the final. No words can describe the excitement of reaching the (FA Cup) final. Now it is left to the players to create history…there is only so much a coach can do in preparing the team and the rest lies with the players,” said Fandi.
Fandi reiterated that the “big match environment and playing before a mammoth crowd” could have a telling effect on his team as it is a “first time experience” to the players.
On the other hand Kelantan are FA Cup “veterans” in many ways and Azraai has called on his players to be disciplined and fully focused on regaining the silverware. Kelantan football has been on the slide after achieving a treble in 2012 by winning the League Cup, the FA Cup and the Malaysia Cup in the same season.
“The players have been told to play according to strategies and match plans. Kelantan will have to be disciplined and focused in the final. The Lions are no pushovers and are a tough side…they are the national team of Singapore and we have to remember that,” said Azraai.
Lions XII have also got “help” from their national association when Fandi’s request to have his SEA Games players – Faris Ramli, Sahil Suhaimi, Zakir Samsudin and Christopher vn Huizen – for the FA Cup final was granted. All four did not feature in the team in the return-leg semi-finals against Terengganu because they were with the SEA Games team on a training-cum-playing tour of Japan.
Taking the Lions to the FA Cup final is another feather in Fandi’s illustrious footballer career – both as a player and now as a coach. To lend him a hand in the stands, Singapore fans and supporters are known to have chartered 30 over buses for the final.
Azraai revealed that his prized possession Austin Amutu will not feature in his starting lineup but instead the Nigerian will start from the bench because of a knee injury. Amutu, however, destroyed Pahang with a brace after coming on as a substitute for skipper Badhri Radzi and scored after only two minutes on the field.
Meanwhile, the Kelantan team was treated to dinner by Kelantan FA president Tan Sri Annuar Musa on Friday night.
Photo by Kamarul Akhir / www.asiana.my